It is easy to forget as a busy artist or manager the large and very important differences that make artists artists and industry industry. We work together closely every day, but to truly maximize the greatness of this partnership it’s important we all keep in mind the very real differences.
Who is an Artist?
Artists operate from a place of creativity. Great artists find what they need to do their best work and aim to spend the majority of their time creating and sharing their art with others. This beautiful vision of a life of art does not usually have a huge monetary payoff. It is pure and peaceful and has a lot to with the genuine ability to create and share something magical so that it has positive effects on those around them. Most artists start making art because of this feeling. Sometimes they need to be in a dark place in order to extract that greatness. Sometimes they need to go away for months and turn off their phones, sometimes they don’t. Whatever they do is necessary for the benefit of the art.
They are special and hard-working humans.
When an artist’s career begins to flourish and a manager comes into the picture, all of the sudden they are thrown into discussions about money, marketing, strategy, competition, and logistics. This is not natural for the artist. It is like petting a cat backwards. All its hair will stand up and if you pet it too many times it will hiss in your face and may try to claw your nose right off.
Now bare with me, artists. I know it’s not that black and white and that you are complex humans capable of understanding business – but that is not my point. My point is that the very nature of the music industry and business that surrounds art goes against EVERYTHING inside of you and against the very principles that started you down this path. At the very root of it, the industry that surrounds music is ironic to the heart and soul of most musicians. So there is a war of sorts going inside of every artist whether they admit it or not.
It’s always there, peeking its head out from corners and jumping in to conversations. It is all about how the artist controls this tendency.
Managers and industry people are quick to forget this and they love to whine about how difficult it is to work with artists and that ‘they don’t understand’, but I always see this as silly. The artists’ hearts and souls don’t WANT to understand. If they were to embrace the industry and its sometimes disheartening ways, what would that mean for the the artist’s creative place of peace? Would it be tainted? Artists need to protect this space.
Who is a Manager?
Unless they were artists before moving over to the industry side, industry people fell in love with music at a young age and are driven by the idea of sharing art and building something into a success. They work endlessly, have millions of meetings, network like crazy, and pour their hearts and souls in to your project. They think in terms of databases, deals, and new contacts – and that is how they measure success and growth. They’ve operated this way from a young age. They are resourceful as hell, always calling in favours to people they know in order to help out the artist. When a connection or meeting leads to a deal, a festival gig, a press opportunity, etc., this is a win and feels as good to the industry person as getting on stage and performing or releasing a new record does to the artist. For them, connecting the dots and making your career happen is what they live and breathe. Seeing guarantees climb and offers come in is a genuine thrill.
They are special and hardworking humans.
As a manager, it’s easy to assume when you’re managing a band who are fighting you on something that they are self-sabotaging and don’t actually want to be successful. Coming from what we know about being managers – it is incomprehensible that a win wouldn’t be seen as a win to the artist. But that just isn’t it. The artist’s initial inclination is to feel uncomfortable about this. Sometimes artists need to wrap their head around something, comes to terms with it, and understand that it does in fact have positive implications for their art and creative vision (more money means more freedom and studio time, etc.). It also has a lot to do with the manner in which a manager brings an opportunity to a band.
That’s not to say compromise isn’t needed. If the artist truly feels their creative vision can not be achieved with the opportunity in front of them then the manager must show true care in addressing those concerns and altering the situation. After all – managers are here to carry out the artist’s vision and without them and their constant stream of great work we have nothing to hang our hats on.
At the same time, artists need to trust that the manager is good at their role of creating business opportunities and try to see it from their end as well.
Artists who do well in the industry and manage to keep their creative heads straight are true and genuine artists BUT have had to learn to accept the fickle beast that is the industry. They have had to take a few backwards cat pats and swallow them whole. It can feel uneasy and nerve-wracking when its happening but in most cases you are surrounded by a team you trust, not just with your business affairs, but trust that they understand your vision. The artist then must decide to take a leap of faith and hope it will all work out, despite their gut reaction to the situation.
What about when it doesn’t work out though? This is specifically troubling for an artist as it validates their initial concerns. It is important when this happens that the artist separates their gut reaction and emotions and looks at things diplomatically – they need to remind themselves that everyone wanted what was best and thought that was where this decision would take them. They approved this decision, and sometimes things do not go as planned. It doesn’t mean all is lost. The manager also needs to be sensitive to this disappointment and it may help to take a moment to review what happened with the artist to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
It has taken me years to realize and embrace this philosophy above. After many mistakes and frustrations, I know the learning will never stop and the very tricky relationship between artist and manager is something that will constantly evolve for me and for all my fellow managers out there. But I do hope – if you’re an artist or a manager – that this general concept, or pieces of it, will help you to work together more successfully.
Some quick tips to help make this happen:
5 Ways Managers Can be Sensitive to Artists’ Natural Inclinations and Work With Them More Fluidly:
– Be patient.
– Understand where they are coming from and explain your side after acknowledging theirs.
– Leave time for decisions to be made as a team over a few days.
– Ensure the artist gets the creative time they need and protect that space for them.
– Don’t raise your voice or get frustrated when an artist doesn’t ‘get’ something. Be understanding and explain.
5 Ways Artists Can Be Sensitive to Managers’ Natural Inclination and Work With Them More Fluidly:
– Remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and your goals of being successful. If there is a photo or lyric or memory that brings great inspiration, bring it out to help centre yourself and keep things in perspective.
– Give yourself time to digest news or decisions instead of making decisions based on your gut reaction. Always thank your manager for the opportunity they have brought to you, even if you’re unsure it’s something you like yet.
– When you feel like you’re being led down a path by a member of your team, ask yourself if you trust them and their intentions whole-heartedly. Do they have the same goals in mind?
– Give up a bit of control to someone you trust and know that they have your best interests in mind.
– Give your team space to do great work. Just like you need space and time to be creative and write/record, they need space – to strategize and do business – and time for those efforts to pay off. You want to empower them to own the project and pour their hearts in to it.
An artist/manager relationship is a fine balance of give and take. When it works well it truly works. When it doesn’t it can really blow up in everyone’s face.
That being said, keep yourselves in check and don’t fall into some of the traps above. Sometimes a simple misunderstanding can ruin a whole relationship that otherwise could have been quite perfect.
Meet at the crossroads of art and business for high fives and to trade notes with your manager/artist often. Celebrate the wins together and learn from the disappointments. Allow each other to do your best work and support each other other through the ups and downs.
Best of luck on your path!
Sari Delmar is the founder and CEO of Audio Blood, Canada’s leading creative artist and brand marketing company. Through unique PR and promotional packages, Audio Blood continues to be on the cutting edge of music marketing and promotion. Their client roster includes the likes of HIGHS, Pistonhead Lager, PledgeMusic, Canadian Music Week, and more. At the age of 24, Sari leads a team of 10 out of the company HQ in Toronto, Ontario, has spoken at a number of music conferences and colleges, and sits on the Toronto Music Advisory Council. Read more from Sari at SariDelmar.com.